Rishi Sunak’s Russian Hypocrisy Shows Who he is Really Protecting
The Chancellor told UK firms to cut ties with Russia – while his own family has kept hundreds of millions of pounds of shares in a company still operating in Moscow
“While I recognise that it may be challenging to wind down existing investments, I believe there is no argument for new investment in the Russian economy,” said Rishi Sunak earlier this month, as he urged British businesses to think “very carefully” before doing business in the country.
What the Chancellor didn’t say is that, while he was publicly telling other companies not to put their money into Russia and sanctioning those with ties to Putin’s regime, his own family continued to profit from its links to the country.
Sunak is married to Akshata Murty, daughter of the Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy who founded the technology company Infosys.
Infosys has strong historic links to Russia and continues to maintains a presence in Moscow, despite Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Infosys has also previously worked with Alfa Bank, which was this week sanctioned by the UK Government for its ties to the Russian President’s regime.
Sunak’s father-in-law has come into close contact with Putin himself. In 2004, he made a personal visit to Infosys’ headquarters in Bangalore where he was photographed shaking hands with him.
The Kremlin reported at the time that Putin was given a tour of the company buildings and asked to sign the “guest of honour book”, in which he wrote: “I congratulate you on your achievements and wish you all future success.”
NR Narayana Murthy retired from his position at the company in 2014. However, according to Infosys’ latest annual accounts, his daughter continues to own 0.91% of the company – worth hundreds of millions of pounds – while he himself retains a further 0.39%.
Asked about his family’s ties to the company, Rishi Sunak told Sky News: “I’m an elected politician, and I’m here to talk to you about what I’m responsible for. My wife is not.”
He added that he has “absolutely no idea” about the company’s current activities.
A spokesperson for the Chancellor added that Infosys “is a public company and neither [the Chancellor’s wife] nor any member of her family have any involvement in the operational decisions of the company”.
A spokesperson for Infosys said that it has a “small team of employees based out of Russia” that “services some of our global clients, locally”.
Yet, while Sunak is not personally “responsible” for Infosys, he clearly does continue to benefit from the wealth it has produced for his family.
At the very least, we should ask whether it is right for the Chancellor to publicly call on other companies to cut their ties with Russia, while his own family’s company refuses to do so.
Not All In It Together
These questions become even more pertinent when the broader economic picture we are now in is considered.
This week, the Chancellor made his Spring Statement setting out his economic plans for the coming year. It came amid economic forecasts suggesting the UK is heading for the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s.
Analysis by the Resolution Foundation think tank this week found that Sunak’s failure to take steps to protect the poorest people in the country means that 1.3 million more people will be forced into absolute poverty next year.
Asked why he wasn’t doing more to help those on Universal Credit, whose benefits will now fall in real-terms, Sunak said that it was simply not possible to “fully compensate” everybody suffering in this crisis.
However, he justified this by echoing the words of his predecessors David Cameron and George Osborne and saying that “we will get through these challenges together”.
While we clearly are all in this crisis together, some of us are more in it than others.
Rishi Sunak is one of the richest people ever to have been Chancellor. His immense personal and familial wealth means that the current crisis will make little to no difference to his daily life.
For this reason, his claims this week to have felt the rise in bread prices, and the soaring price of petrol (while filling up a car he borrowed from a worker at Sainsbury’s) have been wholly unconvincing.
None of this would matter if he was also taking every possible step to protect those who do not share his good fortune. However, far from doing so, Sunak appears to find even being questioned about this beyond the pale. According to the Sun, the Chancellor was “particularly annoyed” by the BBC asking about his failure to protect those on Universal Credit.
Until very recently, Sunak looked likely to soon become Prime Minister following the ‘Partygate’ scandal. Boris Johnson’s call for the public to take every possible step to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, while he and his colleagues held illegal parties in Downing Street, caused a wave of anger among the British public. The scandal suggested to the British people that, when it comes to the Prime Minister, there is one rule for him and his staff and another rule for everyone else.
Rishi Sunak’s double standards shows that this sort of hypocrisy is not just characteristic of the current Prime Minister, but of his potential successor as well.
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